When you’re a mom you’re bound to have a pretty wide variety of personalized recommendations displayed for you when you log into Amazon, or Google, or Facebook.

Chances are you don’t just shop for yourself online, you shop for the whole family, you buy gifts for friends and family, you also probably do your fair share of internet research for family too. And while you’re clicking away from site to site that information is being tracked, stored, sold and parsed a million different ways through ad networks, cookies, and other data collection services. I know the first time I looked at a dress on Nordstrom.com and then clicked away to Facebook only to see that same dress pop up in the ad feed I was completely freaked out. Now, for better or worse, I just expect it.

But, what does it mean? And what have we given up in return for that “personalized” ad experience?

I spend a lot of time talking to my kids and to other parents about online privacy, but these invisible mechanisms of data collection, those terms of service we never read and just impatiently scroll through in order to get to the “accept” button, they mean something. I was inspired by Domain.me, the provider of the personal URLs that end in .ME (like Despicable.me) to think more about the true cost of personalization and “free” services.

Facebook is not free. Google is not free.  They are making money off of our data, but most of us don’t want to really think about what that means. Or maybe we’d rather have ads that are targeted to us, or recommendations that show us products that make our shopping and simpler. However, you don’t have to sacrifice all of your privacy in exchange for personalization.

Google has some simple tools for keeping more of your data private across their properties, including YouTube, Gmail and Chrome. And if you’re spending the bulk of your time and sharing on Facebook – especially if you’re sharing pictures of your kids – you should definitely get to know the various privacy settings for your account, check them often, and make sure that you understand how your data is being used on Facebook.

Finally, there’s a simple way to keep sharing your data across websites – don’t use your social network credentials as your log in credentials. Once you connect third party sites and apps to your social networks they can pull all sorts of data about you and your friends. Create unique sign on passwords for those sites and keep those accounts separate. At the very least you should check your social network settings to see which apps you have given permission to and disconnect those that you no longer use or don’t use regularly.

Using the web shouldn’t mean giving up your privacy and your data. Taking a few precautions and doing a regular audit of your accounts should help you control your data. It’s your data and you should have a say in how it’s used and what it’s used for.  And be sure to teach your kids how to protect their data too!

This post is sponsored by Domain.ME.  All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always.

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